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U.S. imposes new sanctions on Iran oil sector

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WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Tuesday imposed new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector and on a pair of Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of doing business with Tehran.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama said the new measures underlined the United States’ determination to force Tehran “to meet its international obligations” in nuclear negotiations.

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The sanctions came on the same day as the US State Department branded Iran “an active state sponsor of terrorism” in its 2011 annual terrorism report, and as US lawmakers prepared to vote legislation demanding more action.

Obama is keen to show his Iranian sanctions regime is tough, amid fears Israel may launch unilateral strikes against Iran if it believes the Islamic regime is on the point of achieving the capability to build a nuclear bomb.

“This action is designed to deter Iran from establishing payment mechanisms for the purchase of Iranian oil to circumvent existing sanctions,” Obama said, warning that US sanctions will apply to any entity buying Iranian oil.

Obama said measures would be taken against firms that have dealings with the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company or the Central Bank of Iran or that help Iran buy US dollars or precious metals.

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And he accused the Bank of Kunlun in China and the Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq of arranging transactions worth millions of dollars with Iranian banks already under sanctions because of alleged links to Tehran’s weapons program.

Obama said these two institutions would henceforth be denied access to the US financial system, as would any banks caught dealing with Iran in future.

“Today’s action makes it clear that we will expose any financial institution… that allows the increasingly desperate Iranian regime to retain access to the international financial system,” he said.

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Separately, the US Treasury Department confirmed details of the sanctions and allegations against Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of dealing with Iranian firms with alleged links to weapons proliferation and terrorism.

“As financial institutions around the world have cut ties with these designated Iranian banks, Bank of Kunlun and Elaf Islamic Bank took the opposite approach,” the statement said.

The Treasury said the Beijing-based Bank of Kunlun provided services to at least six Iranian banks that have been placed under US sanctions because of their alleged roles in Iran’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

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In particular, it is alleged Kunlun made roughly $100 million in payments from accounts it held for the Iran’s Bank Tejarat and made a payment on behalf of an entity linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Baghdad-based Elaf Islamic Bank, meanwhile, is alleged to have “engaged in activity during the past year worth tens of millions of dollars with the Export Development Bank of Iran.”

Israel has its own undeclared nuclear arsenal, but fears a nuclear-armed Iran would shift the balance of power in an already volatile Middle East or that its fierce foe Tehran might try to eradicate the Jewish state.

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During a visit to Tunisia on Monday at the start of a Middle East tour, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sanctions were having a “serious impact” on the Iranian economy, even if their results may not be immediately obvious.

Obama’s opponent in November’s US presidential election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney, was unimpressed by the new measures, arguing in a statement that “On Iran, President Obama has led from behind.”

The Romney camp noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said last week that international sanctions had so far made “not one iota” of difference to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The president’s refusal to take a tough stance when it comes to Iran has imperiled our allies and jeopardized our national security,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.

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The goal of the US sanctions, which are mirrored by similar measures by the European Union and other major economies, is to force Iran to negotiate a deal to put its nuclear program under international supervision.

Tehran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear energy and research, but Western powers fear it is attempting to stockpile enough highly-enriched fuel to have a “break-out capability” to build a bomb.


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‘Ignorance at the highest level’: Intel Democrat slams Trump for bizarre letter to Turkish president

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On Wednesday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, ripped President Donald Trump for his juvenile letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

"The White House just released the text of the less letter that the president sent to Erdo?an of Turkey, among other things, saying in the aftermath of the earlier decision by the U.S. to pull out troops, saying 'Don't be a tough guy, don't be a fool,'" said anchor Wolf Blitzer. "What is your reaction to that?"

"You know, I'll be honest, I saw this online first. I got a copy of the letter," said Quigley. "I actually thought it was a prank, a joke. It couldn't possibly come from the Oval Office. It sounded all of the world like the president of the United States, in some sort of momentary lapse, just dictated angrily whatever was on the top of his head. These are extraordinarily serious issues. And an extraordinarily dangerous part of the world."

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Here are the two Trump claims that the Pentagon chief refused to vouch for

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The White House meeting Wednesday afternoon didn't go well for either party, according to their counterparts. Both sides are dishing on details, including a Democratic aide who said that there were two of President Donald Trump's claims that his own Pentagon chief wouldn't vouch for.

At the onset of the meeting, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) began by reading a quote from Gen. James Mattis, who briefly served in Trump's administration.

"But POTUS cut Schumer off," reported PBS News correspondent Lisa Desjardins. Trump then "said that Gen Mattis was: 'the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take 2 yrs. I captured them in 1 month."

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Former Clinton lawyer scolds Trump’s White House counsel on impeachment: ‘we never considered’ behaving this way

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On Tuesday, Lanny Breuer, a special counsel who worked for President Bill Clinton's White House, wrote an open letter in the Washington Post to President Donald Trump's White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — telling him that, while he understands an impeachment is a horrible thing for an administration to go through, Clinton and his lawyers would never have behaved the way Trump is now.

"In 1998, we felt under siege," wrote Breuer. "We argued at the time, as you do in your letter, that Congress should provide additional procedural protections to the president ... For example, instead of conducting its own investigation, the committee relied almost exclusively on [independent counsel Ken] Starr’s report, which had serious flaws. The House took only three months to adopt articles of impeachment, and we had only two days to present our witnesses. The president’s personal lawyer, David Kendall, had only 30 minutes to question Starr. We felt this was deeply unfair and a derogation of the House’s constitutional duty to investigate thoroughly whether impeachment was warranted."

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